Franken’s Plans Expected Today

Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Washington — Democratic patience with Sen. Al Franken evaporated on Wednesday in the wake of a new accusation of sexual misconduct against him, and in an uprising led by women, more than half the party’s senators demanded he resign — a decision that could arrive as soon as today.

The cascade of opposition opened when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said “it would be better for our country” if Franken left office. Within minutes, Sens. Kamala Harris, of California; Maggie Hassan, of New Hampshire; Patty Murray, of Washington; Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii; and Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, released similar statements.

“Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere. I believe the best thing for Senator Franken to do is step down,” Harris said.

The choreographed Democratic actions were intended to impose maximum pressure on Franken, who had resisted resigning even as he vowed full cooperation with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into a series of allegations against him by women that began last month.

The coordinated action “was a result of mounting frustrations over the increasing number of accusations,” said a Democrat familiar with the senators’ conversations who was not sanctioned to speak publicly and requested anonymity. “They felt that enough is enough, and now was the time to ask him to step aside.”

As the calls for resignation grew, Franken announced that he would make a statement about his future today. He was missing from the Senate during votes on Wednesday afternoon.

If Franken steps down, as is widely expected, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, would appoint a replacement who would serve until next November’s midterm election. As Dayton would almost certainly appoint a fellow Democrat to the seat, Franken’s resignation would not change the Senate’s partisan balance.

The fast-moving developments were the latest to hit a Capitol reeling from a spate of sexual harassment allegations, an extension of the nationwide repudiation of such actions in corporate suites, media companies and other firms. The appeals to Franken came on the same day Time magazine bestowed its “Person of the Year” award to “The Silence Breakers,” the women and men who went public at risk to themselves to expose harassment and other acts of sexual misconduct.

For Democrats, the effort to push Franken aside reflected growing calls from party activists for an uncompromising, zero-tolerance stance toward sexual misconduct. Over the past several weeks, as they wrestled with Franken’s situation, party leaders worried about seeming to equivocate on an issue of particular importance to women, who make up the majority of Democratic voters.

Democrats also have wanted to draw a clear contrast with Republican willingness to stand by Roy Moore, the GOP Senate candidate in Alabama who has been accused of acts that included partially disrobing and molesting a 14-year-old girl when he was a local prosecutor in his 30s. Democrats also have long defended more than a dozen women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual improprieties dating back decades, only to have the president cast them as liars.

All those pressures combined to produce a flood on Wednesday as, even after Franken revealed plans for his announcement today, more senators added themselves to the list. By midafternoon, well over half the Senate’s Democrats, as well as independent Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, had called for him to step down. So, too, had Republicans Susan Collins, of Maine, and Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, the majority leader. No party leaders rose to defend Franken.

Franken’s fellow Minnesota Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon that strongly implied she favored — and expected — a resignation.

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable,” she said. “This morning I spoke with Sen. Franken, and, as you know, he will be making an announcement about his future tomorrow morning. I am confident he will make the right decision.”

The moves against Franken came the day after the spreading scandal claimed the senior member of the House, Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr., of Michigan, who resigned after several former aides accused him of sexual harassment and unwanted advances.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., was trying to fend off demands by the party’s House leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others that he depart after a former campaign aide recounted repeated acts of sexual aggression against her during the 2016 campaign. Kihuen apologized for making the aide “uncomfortable,” but said he would not resign.

By contrast, Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who had asked for Conyers’ resignation, have made no similar demands of Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold, who allegedly harassed an aide who received an $84,000 taxpayer-financed settlement that was revealed last week. Farenthold told a Texas television station that he did nothing wrong but would try to repay the money.

Those outside of politics have found themselves swiftly dispatched after credible accusations surfaced — Matt Lauer, the NBC Today show anchor, was fired little more than a day after the first allegation about him was made public — but Washington has been torn in its response by partisan loyalty, concern about enacting similar punishment for a variety of improper acts and the belief by many elected officials that lawmakers should be judged by voters, not their peers.

Most Democrats before Wednesday had either stayed silent about Franken or argued that his alleged actions — kissing women against their will, mock-groping a woman during a USO tour and grabbing other women’s buttocks — deserved an Ethics Committee review.

The shift to demand his resignation came after Politico reported a former congressional aide’s claim that Franken had kissed her when she accompanied her boss to an appearance on Franken’s radio show.